My Blog

RT Convention in Dallas: Come Say Howdy!

The Romantic Times Book Reviews  is a genre-specific website and magazine. It doesn’t deal only with straight romance, but any novel category that includes romance. And it hosts a huge reader-focused convention each year, with this year’s soiree happening in Dallas, Texas.

Which is, in Texas terms, like my back yard. Only a few hours’ drive from the Houston area, I’m coming up this next weekend to enjoy the festivities on Friday and Saturday, May 15 and 16. If you’re planning to be there as well, I’d love for you to come say howdy!

Where can you find me? I’ll be at the Shooting Stars Gala on Friday at 10:00 a.m. hosted by The Bent Agency and The Seymour Agency. I’m also planning to go Line-Dancing with the Literary Stars at 12:20 p.m. I’ll attend a few workshops as well and the awards ceremony that evening. On Saturday, it’s book fair time!

How can you find me? I will be looking like my picture (mostly) and wearing cowboy boots (at least on Friday). Because yes, cowboy boots go with just about everything.

If you’re in the area, be sure to come by! Day passes are available, and the Giant Book Fair is only $10. There’s a Teen Day Program as well for only $30. It would be well worth your time and money to come by, where hundreds of authors will be hanging out and signing books. Check it out at RT Convention.

And if you can’t make it, HOWDY anyway! Because a virtual howdy is better than none at all.

The Best Books You’ve Read (Lately)

Some books you really enjoy, and some books stay with you — as ones you’d recommend to others. The last novel I read was one of those, a story I’ll be thinking about for a long time.

So I looked back at my Goodreads account, and, while there are many books I’ve enjoyed lately, I wondered which ones stuck with me. Here are the last three that got meright here. (You know what I mean.) And they’re all very different in tone.

Love & Other Variables coverLove and Other Variables by Shannon Lee Alexander. From the book jacket:

Charlie Hanson has a clear vision of his future. A senior at Brighton School of Mathematics and Science, he knows he’ll graduate, go to MIT, and inevitably discover solutions to the universe’s greatest unanswered questions. He’s that smart. But Charlie’s future blurs the moment he reaches out to touch the tattoo on a beautiful girl’s neck.

The future has never seemed very kind to Charlotte Finch, so she’s counting on the present. She’s not impressed by the strange boy at the donut shop — until she learns he’s a student at Brighton where her sister has just taken a job as the English teacher. With her encouragement, Charlie orchestrates the most effective prank campaign in Brighton history. But, in doing so, he puts his own future in jeopardy.

By the time he learns she’s ill — and that the pranks were a way to distract Ms. Finch from Charlotte’s illness — Charlotte’s gravitational pull is too great to overcome. Soon he must choose between the familiar formulas he’s always relied on or the girl he’s falling for (at far more than 32 feet per second squared).

This one’s a beautifully emotional ride, with lyrical yet authentic prose. It’s not a typical happily-ever-after, but a hopeful ending nonetheless. If you like novels that tug — or yank — at your heartstrings, you won’t be sorry you picked this one up. (You know, I think I liked it a bit more than The Fault in Our Stars.)

Don't Lick the Minivan coverDon’t Lick the Minivan: And Other Things I Never Thought I’d Say to My Kids by Leanne Shirtliffe. From the book jacket:

As a woman used to traveling and living the high life in Bangkok, Leanne Shirtliffe recognized the constant fodder for humor while pregnant with twins in Asia’s sin city. But in spite of deep-fried bug cuisine and nurses who cover newborn bassinets with plastic wrap, Shirtliffe manages to keep her babies alive for a year with help from a Coca-Cola deliveryman, several waitresses, and a bra factory. Then she and her husband return home to the isolation of North American suburbia.

In Don’t Lick the Minivan, Shirtliffe captures the bizarre aspects of parenting in her edgy, honest voice. She explores the hazards of everyday life with children such as:

  • The birthday party where neighborhood kids took home skin rashes from the second-hand face paint she applied.
  • The time she discovered her twins carving their names into her minivan’s paint with rocks.
  • The funeral she officiated for “Stripper Barbie.”
  • The horror of glitter.
    And much more!

A delayed encounter with postpartum depression helps Shirtliffe to realize that even if she can’t teach her kids how to tie their shoelaces, she’s a good enough mom. At least good enough to start saving for her twins’ college, eh, therapy fund. And possibly her own. Crisply written, Don’t Lick the Minivan will have parents laughing out loud and nodding in agreement. Shirtliffe’s memoir might not replace a therapist, but it is a lot cheaper.

I related entirely to the challenges of motherhood, attempts at humor to relieve tension, strange things you find yourself saying, not to mention the intense aversion to crafts. And I laughed out loud many times. Yes, there are close-to-your-heart mommy moments, but just as many close-to-the-wine-bottle moments as well. Which just about sums up motherhood these days!

Aces Up coverAces Up by Lauren Barnholdt. From the book jacket:

Seventeen-year-old high school senior Shannon Card needs money. And lots of it. She’s been admitted to Wellesley, but her dad just lost his job, and somehow she has to come up with a year of tuition herself. But Shannon’s dream of making big bucks waitressing at the local casino, the Collosio, disappears faster than a gambler’s lucky streak. Her boss is a tyrant, her coworker is nuts, and her chances of balancing a tray full of drinks while wearing high-heeled shoes are slim to none. Worse, time is running out, and Shannon hasn’t made even half the money she’d hoped.

When Shannon receives a mysterious invitation to join Aces Up, a secret network of highly talented college poker players, at first she thinks No way. She has enough to worry about: keeping her job, winning the coveted math scholarship at school, and tutoring her secret crush, Max. But when Shannon musters up the nerve to kiss Max and he doesn’t react at all, the allure of Aces Up and its sexy eighteen-year-old leader, Cole, is suddenly too powerful to ignore.

Soon Shannon’s caught up in a web of lies and deceit that makes worrying about tuition money or a high school crush seem like kid stuff. Still, when the money’s this good, is the fear of getting caught reason enough to fold?

It takes a while to figure out what kind of novels you enjoy writing, but I recently concluded that my own voice is a lot like this: Take an outrageous concept, add interesting, real-life characters, and produce a whimsical, yet heartfelt story.

That’s Aces Up. It’s a fun romp of a novel, with a serious heart underneath.

As you can see, my tastes run the gamut here. I cried in the first novel, laughed a lot with the memoir, and let my heart skip happily in the third book. All of these books, however, had a strong voice. They left me feeling like I really knew these people.

Now it’s your turn to share! What are the best books you’ve read lately, and why?

My Very Own Coffee Shop (I Wish)

When I’m not working away in my home office, I get my writing and editing done at a local café or coffee shop. Oftentimes, I meet with other writers with the caveat that we chat a little and work a lot.

But it’s hard to find that perfect place to eat, drink, chat, and write. Which means that sometimes we dream about what the perfect coffee shop for writers would be like . . .

Cup of black coffee
By Kenny Louie via Wikimedia Commons

First, there must be coffee. Or, in my case, tea. (I don’t drink coffee.) There’s not much point in going someplace if you can’t at least get a hot or cold beverage you don’t have at home. So a good cup of coffee or tea (or a glass of wine in the p.m.?) is a must. My very own coffee shop might not have 400 hundred ways to order coffee, but you could get a quality cup of joe to keep you going as you write.

Second, there must be WiFi. Yes, there are times when it’s better to get off the Internet and get the writing or editing done. But many of us conduct book research on the Internet or access a thesaurus online or re-post a meme on Facebook during a quick writing break. So my ideal coffee shop would have unlimited WiFi and two routers, in case one goes kaput.

Third, the thermostat must be set at a reasonable temperature. We’ve ditched places that feel a meat freezer. So someone with a decent sense of temperature settings (probably not the person serving steaming coffee all day) needs to fiddle with the thermostat and make it comfortable for patrons. My coffee shop would stay at a nice, comfortable temperature, and if enough patrons complained, I’d move the dial.

Fourth, good-sized tables. Look, I know it’s a coffee shop, but tables the size of TV trays are not conducive to drinking and getting work done. Ideally, a good place to work has options — with tables for two, tables for four, and a larger set-up for groups. Which my very own coffee shop would have.

Fifth, electric outlets all over the place. Laptop batteries don’t last forever. Sometimes, a place is great, but you have to hunt down a hidden outlet and then crouch into the fetal position to plug your computer in. My coffee shop will have outlets at regular intervals along all walls. Plug away!

All of these things are make-or-break must-haves. But hey, it’s my very own coffee shop, so I am not stopping there.

How about a full menu of fabulous food? You need more than coffee to recharge, so my place would offer pastries, salads, sandwiches, entrées, and desserts. All at prices a struggling writer can afford.

By Bill Smith, via Wikimedia Commons (Wouldn't name mine after any senator, but breakfast, lunch & dinner? Yep!)
By Bill Smith via Wikimedia Commons (Wouldn’t name mine after a senator, but breakfast, lunch & dinner? Yep!)

gorgeous view can be inspiring. This is why writers long to have retreats at the beach, in the mountains, or in a quaint French village. Some amazing scenery can spur you on when you get a little stuck or feel the need to remind yourself there’s a world out there beyond your monitor screen. So my coffee shop would offer this view:

Microsoft Word pic (Just ignore that it's actually in the Caribbean)
Microsoft Word pic
(Just ignore it’s actually in the Caribbean)

An in-house bookstore will be available for perusal and purchase. Because what’s better than having a one-stop shop where you can eat, write, and buy your books. Get a little tired of working on that chapter? Go hunt down your next read, and your mood will perk right up.

Books on shelves & stacks
From Superbmust via Wikimedia Commons
(Maybe not this many, but plenty of books.)

An on-site massage therapist. Hey it’s grueling to hunch over a laptop and work all day long. So there will be a small room in back for 15-30 minute massage breaks. Just loosen up those shoulders and that back, and then return to the writing chair refreshed and ready to create fictional worlds!

By Conny Nordin via Wikimedia Commons (Oh, yeah.)
By Conny Nordin via Wikimedia Commons (Oh, yeah.)

What would you like to see in your coffee shop? What perks would you add to make it a fabulous place to work and to relax?

How to Write a Tantalizing Book Blurb

Today, I’m thrilled to be guest-blogging at the fabulous blog by Jami Gold, paranormal romance author. Here’s a snippet of Jami’s introduction, along with where to find my tips for writing a tantalizing blurb, or book description, for your story.

I’ve spoken before about how no matter how we publish, we have to come up with a great book description—either for use as the query or the back-cover blurb. If we go the traditional route, we might have an agent, editor, or copywriter from the publisher help us improve our blurb before we’re in stores. But if we self-publish, we’re on our own. . . . 

Most blog posts about queries and blurbs focus on those first two steps with advice about what to include or how to structure our book’s description. But it’s that last step that can often take our blurb from good to great.

So today we have Julie Glover, who’s an expert at that last step. She’s here to share tips on how to make a blurb or query stand out. (And yes, she’s the one who stepped in to help me with my blurbs at that Step 3 phase—and was agenius!) Please welcome Julie Glover! *smile*

Read More.

Dare to Be Different: The Beauty of a Girl

boaw-logo-2015-originalThis post is part of the Beauty of a Woman Blogfest 2015.

Deirdre.

I still remember her name. Not because we were friends. She was a senior while I was a freshman in high school. Sure, we were both in the flute section of band, but she was first chair and I was way back in the second row hoping to make my way up to the front row someday. My dad knew her dad, but that didn’t make us cohorts. No, I remember Deirdre for one thing in particular: being different.

Different in appearance.

I don’t mean she bucked the trendy stuff and went all rebel—she wasn’t emo when everyone else was hipster. She didn’t conform to a different standard or subculture. She didn’t even seem to make a point of standing out, but she did.

Why? Because she was essentially her own trend.

Her hairstyle wasn’t the fad of the day. Her fashion was fun and quirky (and really nothing I saw on the racks, so I wondered sometimes how she did that). Her demeanor was confident, without being “hey, look at me!”

And I think about her sometimes. Because if I had to do high school over again, I’d be like Deirdre.*

I wouldn’t copy her fashion. Rather, I’d own my own version of beauty. I’d wear what I wanted, choose a hairstyle I liked, walk with a lot more confidence. I’d dare to be different. I’d be me.

Girl with interesting hairdo with flowers on it + blog post title

I’d choose a look that made me feel good about myself—whether it matched or clashed with current expectations.

Instead of worrying what designers said was “in,” I’d consider my body shape and dress to show it off. Instead of wasting hours with home perms, curling irons, and Aqua Net hairspray (the thing at the time), I’d let my straight hair be straight. Instead of comparing myself with a taller girl, a curvier girl, or just a prettier girl, I’d look in the mirror and take stock of my own assets. Instead of wallowing in self-doubt and body-image issues, I’d lift up my chin and walk with confidence.

I’d own my beauty.

Knowing it was unique to me.

I don’t have high school to do over again. Instead, I have these days to dress how I want, choose the look I want, walk with the self-confidence I now possess.

And I can encourage young girls to do and be better.

Young ladies, when I see you all in the school parking lot with the same hairstyle, I wonder who had to wrestle and wrangle with hair products, tools, and self-criticism to get that look…and if you ever want to do something different.

When I see a fashion trend catch hold, and school hallways filled with the latest thing, I wonder if you all love it for what it is…or if you ever want to wear something different.

When I hear you criticize your appearance and complain about your hair, makeup, body shape, or style, I wonder if you believe that down deep…or if you ever want to believe something different.

Believe in your beauty. It’s there—inside and out.

And go ahead. Dare to be different. Dare to be you.

When you’re my age (yes, a long time from now), you’ll be glad you did.

~ ♀ ~

Have You Experienced Post-Novel Depression?

In recent years, we’ve heard a lot about postpartum depression — as well we should, since it affects quite a few moms. Even those without full-blown depression can experience a form of “baby blues.” Just when you think you should be infused with unending stores of joy — finally having given birth to the child you anticipated for so long — you’re feeling blah times two, or ten.

I’m starting to wonder if the same thing can happen with writing a book.

A couple of weeks ago, I finished The Book — that is, the book I’d been working on in some way or other for three years. But now, it’s done. Drafted, rewritten, critiqued, edited, polished. As good as I can make it. I did a little happy dance and then opened up a new project, jumping with excitement about tackling a new novel.

And then the blahs hit.

Instead of working, I really wanted to watch TV and take naps and chat on Facebook and clean my closet. Which, admittedly, needs cleaning.

But still… What happened to my enthusiasm? Wasn’t this what I’d been excited about since forever? I’d been thrilled to finish the book, and now, suddenly, I felt mehMeh about writing. Meh about editing. Meh about blogging too.

Sad woman looking out windowPerhaps this is something like a post-novel depression. Not a true, full-blown depression. (Don’t send me “happy pills” or a psychiatrist. I promise, I’m fine.) More like Finished Book Blues. Just a sense of letdown, because I’d been aiming at this Big Massive Goal for so long, and once I crossed the finish line . . . well, what now?

Yes, I should be writing. I should be editing. And I still should be cleaning out my closet.

But I haven’t yet.

Maybe you’ve been through a similar circumstance.

WebMD suggests 10 natural treatments to fight depression, and I think they might apply with Finished Book Blues as well. Here are each of the 10 — with my own take on what that means for writers.

1. Get in a routine. Sit down at a regular time each day and write something, anything. Don’t get up until the timer has sounded or the word count has been met.

2. Set goals. Old goal has been met? Set new ones — with a deadline. That sense of urgency with the almost-finished book doesn’t exist with the new project, so you have to create that motivation.

3. Exercise. Yep, your brain works better when the blood flows well throughout your body. And you’ll get a burst of energy from a good workout.

4. Eat healthy. Too many carbs and sugar come with a after-eating malaise, so make better food choices that feed your brain cells as well as your body.

5. Get enough sleep. Getting enough, but not lying around all day, is the trick here. It’s about balance — figuring out how much sleep you need to function well. (Which, by the way, is typically more than you’re getting. Most people are sleep-deprived.)

6. Take on responsibilities. Get involved in a writers’ group, offer to beta read or critique for someone, join a writing accountability group. Don’t wallow; get busy.

7. Challenge negative thoughts. Maybe you’re thinking that you wrote one great book, but you’re not sure you have another one in you. Or perhaps you fear that this next project will be as grueling, or more grueling, than the last. Answer all that self-doubt with affirmations about your writing ability and zeal. You. Can. Do. This. (Again.)

8. Check with your doctor before using supplements. Don’t grab the 5-hour energy bottle, or whatever, just yet. Artificial boosts aren’t likely to suddenly morph you into J.K. Rowling or John Green. If you are sinking into true depression, though, see a doctor.

9. Do something new. Do some writing exercises. Write a short story. Try writing a scene in a different genre. Take a current scene and rewrite from the viewpoint of an alternate character. Read a writing craft book. Take an online writing course or attend a conference. Re-awaken your excitement for storytelling.

10. Try to have fun. Writing and editing are work, but this is also a truly fun job. Writers get to create characters, weave worlds, and saturate ourselves in beautiful language. We get to craft a story that enables a shared experience with readers. We get to make things up, play pretend, lie on the page. What fun!

I’d probably add one more to their list: Drink plenty of water. According to PsychCentral, “even mild dehydration can influence mood, energy levels and the ability to think clearly.” Sometimes I get a mid-afternoon dip in energy and realize I haven’t been drinking enough, so I grab the bottled water and swig a bunch of ounces. And I feel better.

Have you ever experienced “post-novel depression,” or Finished Book Blues? What’s your advice for snapping out of it?

Sources: 10 Natural Depression Treatments – WebMDDehydration Influences Mood, Cognition – PsychCentral

What It Takes to Write a (Good) Book

When you tell someone you’re writing a book, the next question is often some variation of “So when is it coming out?”

We writers sometimes get in our cozy little circles and laugh hysterically at how quickly many people think you can go from first draft to on the bookstore shelves. But really, how does one know these things? I sure didn’t when I got started. I had no idea what it takes to write a book–much less a good book.

And that’s probably a good thing. Because it’s a bit like parenting. How many would have really embarked on such a chaotic disruption to our lives if we’d known all there was to know about having children beforehand? But once you jump in, you pull up your sleeves, get dirty (all the up to your elbows), and discover both the tough challenges and the genuine joy of the process.

And now that I just put the final polish on a novel I started three years — yes, three years — ago, I thought I’d break down a bit of what it really takes to write a (good) book.

Write Something1. Commit to writing it. There are a lot of people walking around saying, “I have a great idea for a book” or “Someday I’m going to write a book.” All well and good, but if there’s one constant across genres and approaches, it’s that writers write.

For years, I wanted to write fiction. But I didn’t. It wasn’t until I committed to writing an hour a day, five days a week, that I began to experience the reality that I actually could draft a novel and saw the story unfolding before me. Some writers plunge into writing full-time and others have little time to devote at first, but regardless you have to commit through action to writing one word after another on a page.

2. Learn about the craft. Yes, yes, you took high school and even college English — and you were good at it. Or you crafted beautiful stories in a journal hidden under your mattress. Maybe you posted fan-fiction on a website and shared stories with friends. That is the spark that ignites your desire. But sparks aren’t fires. If you want to write a good book, you’d better fan those flames. That means figuring out what you’re doing and how to do it well. I recall my realization that, while I’d read a lot and knew I could write, I didn’t know enough yet to write a great book and needed to learn a lot more.

I understand writing is not rocket science or brain surgery, but it does require skill. And the best writers have very well-developed skills. They get those skills through reading, but also by learning about the craft of writing through classes, books, conferences, articles, conversations with fellow writers, workshops, mentors, beta readers, critique partners, writing organizations, etc.

3. Finish the book. For as many finished books as there are in the world, I’m convinced there are at least triple that number in unfinished manuscripts. Now undoubtedly, some of our stories should remain untended, buried, locked away perhaps. But if you want to write a good book, you have to actually write a whole book. Ten beautiful chapters that leave off in the middle do not constitute success.

Finished first drafts matter a lot, because while the book still isn’t complete, you’ve made a huge step toward the endgame. The most important step, some might contend. When I finished that first manuscript, I wanted to climb my roof and shout “The End!” to the universe. Because yeah, it’s a huge deal to write an entire book, beginning to end, first page to last, prologue to denouement. So however you can motivate yourself, keep plugging through and finish the dang book.

4. Edit, edit, edit — and edit some more. See, this is where it all goes haywire in our heads. Sure, some authors have only three drafts, two drafts, or even publish their first draft. But for the rest of us non-superheroes, there will be a lot of editing. This is even more true for novices.

Those early on in this journey should expect to write and rewrite and revise and polish the manuscript several times over. If you’re in the middle of this journey, you’re probably still churning out more drafts than you wish you could. Little by little, we do hone our process, and the number of drafts needed to reach our best decreases. But the amount of editing great authors do is still likely more than the average reader realizes. Even if they don’t do that much editing before turning in a manuscript, the publishing house editor or hired editor (for indies) will request changes.

5. Get content editing, line edits, and proofreading. Speaking of which, when the author’s finished with the book, it’s time for some kind of editing — by someone else. This can be content or developmental editing, line or copy editing, or proofreading. And these suggested changes can come from paid professionals or from beta readers and critique partners.

When writing the story, you’re wading through the thick forest of your plot, characters, and prose. Of course you know the saying: “I can’t see the forest for the trees.” Yep, after a while, you know your story so well — even things the characters think and feel that you never actually put on the page — that you can’t see it in the same way a potential reader would. So you must get other eyeballs to review your work and see if it makes sense — plot-wise, character-wise, grammar-wise, etc. If you want that great book, you simply cannot skip this crucial step.

6. Begin the long path to publication. Here’s where the road diverges for traditional and self-published authors, but it’s still a long road. Traditional authors must query or submit their manuscripts, wait for revision requests, communicate with editors and cover art departments, and do some other things I don’t yet know about because I haven’t done it. But I do know that it’s not atypical for a year or more to pass from manuscript submission to book release.

Self-published authors make their own deadlines and release dates, but they have to create or (better yet, in my opinion) hire out the cover art and format the book. If they want their book sold in several places (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, etc.), they have to format to each accordingly. As you might expect, this takes time. Some people are quicker than others, but more often, it can be months from manuscript completion to release date.

So this is why my book will not be available on bookshelves next week. I’d like my novel to be out there as soon as possible, but since I want to give readers the best story experience I can, I’m willing to take my time.

What do you believe it takes to write a good book? What part of the process has surprised you?

Overwhelmed by Social Media Choices

My Twitter feed is whining a lot lately. Some days it sits there, neglected and lonely, glaring at me as if I’ve locked it in the closet and forgotten to feed it all day. Which, some days, I have.

Feeling even more guilt for my indefensible level of negligence, I finally closed down my LinkedIn account last year. I’d like to say I wept a tear of regret, but honestly I did it with a sigh of relief. I do feel bad when I get requests from people wanting to add me to their network on LinkedIn, but would it really be fair to say I’m connecting there when you’re more likely to find me in the party aisle of Wal-Mart at 5:00 a.m.?

I have Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat accounts — which will greet me like a long-lost cousin at the family reunion the next time I show up. “Where you have you been? We haven’t seen you in forever!”

I never bit the bullet and joined Google +. I was afraid I’d distort the circles, what with my tendency to step outside the lines too often. (Plus, it seemed to be arranged with visual people in mind, which I am decidedly not.)

And now there’s tsū, a free social platform that believes in “quality content, real ownership, and the value of one’s own network.” Translation: They’re trying to compete with Facebook, especially in the wake of FB users disgruntled with constant changes to policies and accounts. Word on the street is you should join.

As you can see, I’m overwhelmed by social media choices. This short list doesn’t even include sites like Goodreads, Wattpad, Tumbler, Pinterest, and more. And if you write for teens, as I do, potential readers can migrate from one social media platform to another, as one site becomes less trendy and another becomes The Place to Be.

So where does this leave me? Besides huddled up on the corner of my closet eating through the rest of the Christmas candy and re-reading my wrinkled copy of A Wrinkle in Time.

Well, I’m hoping for social media clarity in 2015. Actually, praying for it. I’d even be willing to do a hokey rain dance complete with chanting, if that would help.

I’m too aware of the saying “jack of all trades, master of none” to try to take on everything. Indeed, I defend my decision to shut myself out of LinkedIn (where, believe me, teens are not) to dedicate myself to being an actual presence on those sites that I enjoy the most and that will allow me to connect best. (Just as soon as I’m positive which ones those are…)

So that’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? Where should we invest our social media time?

And the answer will be different for different individuals, depending on goals. For myself, I’m well-connected to the writer community on Facebook, where I plan to remain — at least for the time being. I’d like to revive my Twitter account (so stop whining, feed!). And I want to make a more concerted effort to engage on Goodreads, Instagram, and YouTube.

My list could change, but I think it’s advisable to choose a few social media platforms and engage consistently there. That’s my plan for this year.

At least, until someone fiiinally perfects the cloning process. Anyone? Anyone?

On which networks do you engage? Do you have favorites or neglected accounts? How do you feel about the plethora of social media choices?

A Round of Words in 80 Days: Honestly, I’m still trying to decide whether to participate in ROW80 this time. I just haven’t figured out the order of my goals, so I may be waiting for a bit and joining up mid-round or Round 2.

Wrapping Up ROW80 & Looking Ahead to 2015

I hope your Hanukkah, Christmas, or other holidays were peaceful and enjoyable. For those who struggled with the holidays this year due to hardships in their lives, my heart goes out to you. I pray that everyone faces a hopeful year in 2015.

But here at year’s end, I’m doing a little wrapping up and looking ahead for me, my writing, and my blog.

ROW80LogocopyFinal ROW80 Check-in

It’s been years now that I’ve been involved in A Round of Words in 80 Days. I’m aware of other writing challenges, but I like this one particularly because it’s flexible to the participant and the season. Writers set their own goals for a round that last 80 days, and then report their progress and receive encouragement from others.

I haven’t been quite as on top of ROW80 this time as I like to be. But I did participate once again, and here’s my final report.

1. Edit, polish, and release two more short stories in my Paranormal Playground series. I edited both, but I need more feedback from critique partners before polishing and publishing. Thus, these releases will happen after the first of the year.

2. Read 12 books. I read 10 books. And I’m still trying to get through Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. Honestly, if this one hadn’t tripped me up, I’d have made my goal. I feel bad about my slow progress, but Mansfield Park is often named as Austen’s least engaging novel and it involves a lot of telling and dialogue — more than I recall in her other works. Yes, yes, that’s all rationalizing, but I have sworn to myself that I will finish this book and I plan to make it through before the end of this year.

3. Attend Immersion Master Class and follow-up. I completed Immersion, made necessary edits based on what I learned there, and have only a couple of scenes to fix to be completely done. In addition, at the encouragement of Immersion mates and others, I entered my manuscript in the Golden Heart contest.

2015Looking Ahead to 2015

It’s good to take a look back and where you’ve been and what you can improve, but I don’t believe in dwelling there. Take stock, sure, but then look ahead to what’s next.

So here’s my overall list of writing goals for the New Year:

1. Revamp my website. Yes, I’ve done this before, but I’ve never been supremely happy with how it’s all going here. In fact, I wrote not that long ago on Blogging: What’s the Point? I’ve had some ideas stirring around in my head for months, but I haven’t had time to get to them. I’m planning to change that in 2015 and reboot the blog.

2. Publish three paranormal short stories. I have three more short stories to put out for my Paranormal Playground series. I’ll be releasing those, hopefully in the first half of 2015.

3. Publish “Color Me Happy.” This young adult contemporary short story was published in an anthology, but I’d like to publish it as a single as well. I’m aiming for perhaps a summer release.

4. Query Sharing Hunter. This contemporary young adult novel has been my heart’s work in 2014, and I believe it’s ready to go out to agents and publishers. It’s already been sent out a few times, but it’s in better shape now and I’m eager to query my manuscript.

5. Edit The Year of Firsts (working title). I wrote this middle grade novel a couple of years ago, then let the draft sit. I like the story and the characters, but after much thought, I’ve decided to edit it into a young adult novel. Of course, that means more like rewrite than edit, but I think this will be a great follow-up project. (And yeah, I no longer like that title, so I’ll be trying out new ones.)

6. Serve as RWA chapter officer. Next year, I am the vice president of special events for my RWA chapter. Some moments, I think I was crazy to agree to add another item to my already full plate, and other moments, I’m really excited to get to do this job. Wish me luck!

Perhaps I’ll get even more done in 2015. But I’m keeping my list right there for now.

What have you accomplished this past year? What are you looking forward to doing in the New Year?

Are You a Christmas Person? (Reblog)

While I enjoy certain aspects of Christmas — like caroling and A Charlie Brown Christmas — I approach other parts of the yuletide with this expression:

In my opinion, there are a lot of to-do’s, traffic, travel, and testiness involved with the holidays. However, I want to get into the spirit, so here’s a 10-question, multiple-choice quiz to decide how you measure up on the Xmas spirit-o-meter.

1. When it comes to holiday specials on television, I:

a. Curse at the TV when my regular programming gets preempted and send hate mail to the networks. The silly Christmas saps should be the ones to hunt down their shows, not me.

b. Turn on the TV, discover a special, and happily settle in to watch. Who doesn’t like Santa Claus is Coming to Town?

c. Track when the best specials will air and post a schedule on the refrigerator. I can’t stand the thought of missing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or The Year Without Santa Claus!

d. Own an extensive Christmas library of classics and watch one each day in anticipation of the big day. Heck, I know every word of Frosty the Snowman and You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.

2. For holiday decorating, our family:

a. Puts up a tabletop tree and a few stockings. That’s quite enough, thank you. My house isn’t a store display window.

b. Erects a nice Christmas tree with ornaments and a few household decorations about two weeks before. Then we can count down those 12 days of Christmas as presents start to pile under and around the tree.

c. Had a couple of trees, household decor, and outside lights up the day after Thanksgiving. I love this time of the year, and having a festive house is one way to amp up the holiday spirit and have a welcoming environment for our annual Christmas party.

d. Decorate several trees around the house, each with its own theme, and receive complaints from the neighbors about our extensive light show. But the families who come by in cars and slow down to look seem to like it a lot!

3. When it comes to cooking, my idea of holiday baking is:

a. Picking up rumballs at the local bakery for the office party. Those babies are good any time of year.

b. Baking and decorating Christmas cookies with my kids in the shapes of trees, wreaths, and Santa Claus. They especially enjoy sprinkles.

c. Hosting a party or two with fresh-baked goodies and handing out homemade bread and candy as gifts to family and friends.

d. Turning my kitchen into a Paula Deen playground for a couple of weeks beforehand. This is the best time to make breads, pies, fruitcake, and cookies. I have several holiday cookbooks that I put to good use during the Christmas season.

4. My favorite holiday movie is:

a. Die Hard – Terrorists interrupting a Christmas Eve party and Bruce Willis getting revenge? What could possibly compete?

b. A Christmas Story – Getting the toy you want for Christmas? Who can’t relate to this classic theme and its humor?

c. It’s a Wonderful Life – I love that part when Bedford Falls gathers at the house and Clarence gets his wings.

d. Miracle on 34th Street – Santa Claus is REAL. And if you don’t believe, you don’t receive.

5. Some people like to dress Christmas-y this time of year, and I:

a. Mock their dorky Christmas sweaters and Santa Claus hats, in person, on Facebook, and on Twitter. What are those fools thinking?

b. Have one nice Christmas sweater that I bring out to wear to the office or church party.

c. Own Christmas shirts, some holiday jewelry, and a set of red-and-green plaid pajamas to help me get into the seasonal swing.

d. Wear something festive every day in December, put Rudolph antlers on the dog, and have everyone pose in their brand-new Christmas pajamas for our annual family Christmas photo.

6. Santa Claus is:

a. The delusional character we invented to scare kids into behaving the rest of the year.

b. A jolly fictional character represented by seasonal workers in the mall who welcome little children onto their laps to rattle off their wish lists.

c. A fairytale figure who inspires us to be more generous toward others, especially toward little children.

d. The man who lives at the North Pole, has a workshop of elves, and visits every single child on Christmas night with his magical sleigh and flying reindeer.

7. On Black Friday, you could find me:

a. Snoozing in until 12:00 noon, then holing up at my house with a remote control and football on television. Let the idiots shop ’til they drop while I drink beer, eat leftover turkey, and yell at stupid referees.

b. Checking the flyers and websites for good deals, then concluding I don’t have the appropriate body armor for the trip. Maybe one day I’ll brace myself and venture out on that crazy shopping day.

c. Out for a couple of hours with friends or family to catch a few deals. I bought the latest electronic for 60% off (which the rest of you will only get for 50% off later).

d. Camped outside the store since midnight the night before, filing my fingernails into claw shape, and drawing a diagram strategy for me and my team to rush in and grab the best deals first.

8. When I see mistletoe, I:

a. Yank it down. I’m allergic, and what do a bunch of leaves have to do with whether I get lucky anyway.

b. Smile at the sweet notion that someone might get kissed underneath. For myself, it’s never worked any wonders, though.

c. Find my honey and plant a big smooch on  him. Why not use mistletoe as an excuse to get some lip-locking?

d. Drag everyone in my family underneath and give them a big kiss. Then hang some at my workplace to kiss that handsome coworker three cubicles down from me and the delicious Corrigan water guy. That’s what mistletoe is for, baby!

9. My favorite Christmas carol is:

a. Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer. That song cracks me up.

b. Santa Claus is Coming to Town. That’s what this season is about.

c. O Holy Night. It’s a classic.

d. A toss-up between The Twelve Days of Christmas and Handel’s Messiah. The first helps me count down those precious days until Christmas arrives, while the second must be heard in its entirety to revel in the Christmas spirit.

10. My feelings about this quiz can be summed up as:

a. Can I have my 10 minutes back? This was a total waste of my time.

b. Cute, but I could have used the time for online holiday shopping.

c. Fun to take this quiz and start thinking about the Christmas spirit.

d. Are you kidding? I love EVERYTHING Christmas – even quizzes!

SCORING: Count up your a’s, b’s, c’s, and d’s. Which letter got the most answers?

from A Christmas Carol (2009)

Mostly a’sSCROOGE. On Christmas Eve, be prepared to be visited by three scary ghosts who need to jolt you into a little show of humanity and Christmas spirit. Drop the “Bah hum bug” attitude and find your inner elf.

from Yes, Virginia (2009)

Mostly b’sVIRGINIA. You have some doubts about this season, but you know deep down that “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” Still, you might want to take a Christmas lights tour or visit a Nativity scene to get yourself more excited about the holidays.

from How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Mostly c’sMAX. You understand that Christmas isn’t perfect, but you are determined to get into the spirit and have a great season no matter what. Put on that smile and pull the sleigh. It will all work out in the end!

From http://www.dragoart.com

Mostly d’sELF. You belong at the North Pole year-round just getting ready for Christmas — the best day of the year. Santa Claus is accepting applications for toybuilders, and I will happily write you a recommendation letter.

 

 

So are you a Christmas person? Hanukkah person? Perhaps something else?

Merry Christmas!

Post first published December 2011.